“We have already seen in countries like Venezuela how the population is left unprotected when a leader, no matter how popular he may initially be, is allowed to concentrate all power,” Juanita Goebertus Estrada said in a letter published in a media.
The director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, Juanita Goebertus Estrada called into question the elections that gave Nayib Bukele the clear winner as president of El Salvador.
In the February 4 elections, the current president received more than 10 times the votes of the second candidate, Manuel “Chino” Flores, of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).
X-ray of the wave of violence that is suffocating Latin America
However, these elections raised questions. “No one can doubt that he is very popular. But this election can hardly be considered fair,” he said. Juanita Goebertus Estrada.
Part of Goebertus’ questioning, in a letter published in El Mercurio, is based on Bukele’s alleged concentration of power in El Salvador: “He has dismantled the fundamental requirements of any democracy that respects human rights, including the judicial independence and guarantees for human rights. the press and civil society.
For example, the authority of Human Rights Watch states that “Bukele has co-opted the judiciary, starting with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court. And just like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Evo Morales in Bolivia, he took advantage of this control to circumvent the constitutional provisions which prohibit immediate re-election.
Likewise, he adds that the president “controls the Legislative Assembly. He used it, among other measures, to reform electoral rules a few months before the elections. These reforms, according to electoral experts, would allow Bukele’s party to further increase its majority in the Assembly.
On the other hand, he questioned Bukele’s main goal in his country: controlling organized crime: “It also cannot be denied that Bukele’s popularity responds to his government. managed to significantly reduce key indicators of violence in El Salvador . During its early years, the Bukele government secretly negotiated prison benefits and extradition protection for gangs, in exchange for reduced killings.
“When these negotiations failed, Bukele resorted to mass arrests, particularly in poor communities. With constitutional rights suspended, security forces arrested more than 75,000 people, including at least 2,800 children and adolescents,” Goebertus said.
In this sense, he noted: “As we have observed on the ground, many people arrested had nothing to do with gangs ; many were tortured and some forcibly disappeared. In trials, for example, during virtual hearings bringing together more than 500 defendants, the most basic guarantees of due process were violated.”
Goebertus assures that “there are reasons to doubt the durability and effectiveness” of Bukele’s anti-crime policy. “To date, few detainees have been convicted. . And the experience of the region, including in El Salvador at the beginning of the century, shows that paradoxically, mass incarceration allows organized crime to strengthen its recruitment.”
“Even so, it is not difficult to understand why Bukele is popular in other countries in the region. Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest homicide rate in the world, at 15 per 100,000 people in 2021. And several countries in the region, including Ecuador, have suffered a worrying increase in violence in recent years. years. . Many citizens are rightly fed up with violence and extortion and want immediate solutions, even if they are not lasting,” he acknowledged.
Of course, he emphasized that “no country should sacrifice the rights of its citizens to end violence. The region’s leaders have a responsibility to protect their citizens with security policies that are both effective and respectful of human rights.
In the last part of his letter, Goebertus suggests “strengthening the capacity of the judiciary, (…) strengthening civilian control over the military forces and the police, and strengthening the judicialization of those primarily responsible for violent crimes that affect most of the population. the citizens.”
“We must also offer education and employment alternatives to young people, to avoid recruitment,” he added on this point.
“Far from being a model, Bukele’s strategy constitutes a threat to human rights in the region. We have already seen in countries like Venezuela how the population is left unprotected when a leader, no matter how initially popular, is allowed to concentrate all power. . To prevent this threat from spreading, democratic leaders must ensure security and protect human rights,” he concluded.
Bukele in his country has a popularity close to 90%. Part of this popularity is based on the results achieved in controlling gangs. In this country, it was the Mara Salvatrucha which, until some time ago, controlled the streets. Today, the prisons of this country are filled with its members.
Bukele cataloged his anti-crime plan as “the most successful security strategy known in history.”
Until some time ago, El Salvador was one of the most violent countries in the region. According to data from this country, published in January 2024, the previous year recorded the lowest number of homicides in its history in Salvado, with 154 homicides, a rate of 2.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. In 1994, El Salvador reported 134.78 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to press reports.
“The homicide rate per 100,000 population is 2.4 and the average annual homicide rate is 0.4. This places us, at the American level, in the second country and the first in Latin America; with the lowest homicide rate, just below Canada, which closed with 2.25 homicides per 100 thousand inhabitants”, says the Minister of Security, Gustavo Villatoro.